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by Anne Berleant
Community Care, a private, nonprofit mental health agency headquartered in Bangor, will make clinicians available to Surry students through a proposal that was approved by the school board at its August 7 meeting.
“We try to close the gap between the education system and mental health system,” said Jody Stevenson, Operations Director of Community Care, who attended the meeting with Christiana Libby, clinical supervisor of the agency’s community family support services (CFSS).
Students must already be receiving MaineCare, which will be directly billed for clinician visits, to be eligible for the service.
Surry school is the first school on the Blue Hill Peninsula to be identified to receive this service, Stevenson said, mainly because a Community Care clinician, Paul Oxman, LCSW, already sees patients in Surry. Oxman will be one of two licensed clinicians serving Surry students.
The school board first heard of the proposal from then-principal Marianne DeRaps at its June meeting, and asked to meet with Community Care representatives before making a decision.
However, members were surprised to learn that DeRaps had referred two students to Community Care in the last school year and invited Community Care clinicians to a May 29 staff meeting, Stevenson said.
“That’s news to me,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt.
Stevenson explained how the program would work. The school would let families know the service was available, and teachers could suggest students who might benefit from clinician visits based on observed classroom behavior. All requests for services would come from parents.
Behavior from younger students, such as temper tantrums, crying, biting and kicking, are the kinds of issues that Community Care clinicians work with, said Christiana Libby, the CFSS clinical supervisor. Oppositional disorders, depression, ADHD and Asperger’s are other issues for which the agency provides services.
Clinician services could be given to students before and after school and during unstructured periods, such as recess.
“We try to work with the structure of the school…and the classroom,” Stevenson said, explaining that the agency was trying to be creative, by having interventions in the school, “in the event the parent prefers it,”
“It’s a respectful way to introduce the service to families,” Stevenson said.
Clinicians would attend weekly staff meetings “to make sure everyone’s on the same page, and be available to work with parents for home visits, if requested.
Board members agreed that all student referrals for services must come through the school principal.
Chairman Hal Casey asked for the opinions of staff members who had participated at the May 29 staff meeting with Community Care clinicians.
“They were all very supportive,” said teacher Joan Dwyer. She said she felt the service “could be utilized and was much needed.”
Board member Jon Walden urged the board to approve the proposal without delay.
Casey concurred. “I don’t see any reason to put it off. The teacher approval helped a lot.”
The two clinicians at the school will be Oxman, and Cindy Booker-Bingler, a licensed master clinical social worker. The program will be overseen by Stevenson and implemented once background checks on the clinicians are provided to the board, along with referrals from Maine schools who have used the program, such as Deer Isle- Stonington Elementary School.
Community Care is nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Children and Families.
“We’re flexible,” said Stevenson. “We’re here if you need us.”